May 19, 2014 / 12:19 PM / 5 years ago

Airbus, Dassault, Alenia propose European drone project

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Group, France’s Dassault Aviation and Italy’s Finmeccanica are joining forces to take another run at creating a European unmanned drone to reduce the region’s reliance on U.S. and Israeli technology.

The logo of Airbus Group is seen during the first public flight of an E-Fan aircraft during the e-Aircraft Day at the Bordeaux Merignac airport, southwestern France, April 25, 2014. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

In a joint statement, the three firms said they would work with the governments of Germany, Italy and France for up to two years to define those countries’ requirements for an unmanned aerial vehicle, with a view to producing it by 2020.

European Union leaders in December backed the idea of creating a European drone by 2020-2025 after previous attempts by companies and countries failed due to competing national needs, corporate rivalry, technical problems and lack of government support.

Airbus Defence & Space spent 500 million euros (407.3 million pounds) developing its Talarion drone but halted work in 2012 after failing to receive an order from the project’s instigators, France, Germany and Spain.

It said it was not willing to invest its own money in the project this time.

“We are prepared to spend the money which we get from the customer. We’re not putting any company money into this,” Airbus Defence & Space Chief Executive Bernhard Gerwert told journalists in Berlin at an event ahead of the Berlin Air Show.

Germany last year scrapped the Euro Hawk surveillance drone programme, based on Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, heaping pressure on then defence minister Thomas de Maziere over what was seen as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Still, Airbus said it was confident the project would get off the ground this time because of the commitment made by European leaders in December.

The German government also set out a need for drone capability in its coalition agreement last year.

“The air forces need that capability, so there’s a need,” Christian Scherer, head of marketing and sales for Airbus Defence & Space, said.

“If you don’t master your own technology you’re dependent on somebody else’s and when it comes to sensitive areas, you don’t want to depend on somebody else. So that’s why we’re hopeful we have a real prospect here.”

The companies delivered the proposal to governments on Friday.

A spokesman for Germany’s defence ministry said it would look at the proposal but that it was too soon to have evaluated it.

“It is to be welcomed that we will sit down at a table together with industry and with other countries to think about future solutions and to agree on our demands,” the spokesman said at a government news conference.

Gerwert said having a joint definition phase should reduce the risk for all involved and that given both Airbus and Dassault have already been involved in researching drones before there would be little need for new research studies.

He said the plan foresees an unarmed vehicle but that weapon capability could be added if the customers wanted it.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan, Tim Hepher and James Regan; Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Brian Love and Jason Neely

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